Building Community in the Desert
From Bamidbar to Burning Man
The Jewish people wandered in the desert for 40 years, transforming from a ragtag group of freed slaves into a cohesive nation. So it’s not surprising that a dynamic, creative Jewish community would emerge from the desert festival of Burning Man.
Held for more than two decades in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, this annual gathering now attracts over 80,000 people for a week of radical self-expression and inclusion through art, music, dancing, workshops, and thousands of other activities and events brought to life by the temporary residents of this pop-up city. The heart of Burning Man is its Ten Principles, including Civic Responsibility, Communal Effort, and Leave No Trace.
For the past 15 years, a growing group of Jews (and philosemetic friends) have camped together at Burning Man, starting first as Sukkat Shalom and now known as Milk+Honey. In the tradition of camps offering gifts to the “playa” (which is what we call the Burning Man city), Milk+Honey has offered a Shabbat prayer service and dinner every year, starting with just a few dozen participants and now expanding to almost a thousand people this past year.
Our services appeal to a wide range of seekers, as we aim to mix the sacred and the profane, the reverent and the subversive. For many, Milk+Honey Shabbat is a comforting reminder of home, intertwined with the radical values of Burning Man. For some, Shabbat on the playa is their only connection to their tradition and heritage.
But Milk+Honey is not just a community for one week out of the year; our 300+ alumni meet regularly in the Bay area (where most of us are concentrated) or other hubs around the world for Shabbat dinners, dance parties, and other sacred revelry. Especially during COVID, when Burning Man skipped two years, we were able to lean on each other for support and connection.
We’ve been fortunate to partner with OneTable to help us nurture our community. We’ve used OneTable’s Shabbat guides to help inform our unique Shabbat services on playa, integrating ancient practices in ways that resonate with modern times. OneTable’s support for our Shabbat dinners during the rest of the year has helped feed our bellies and our souls.
The 10 Principles of Burning Man are alive in our Shabbat practice, a soulful vehicle to connect with Immediacy, Decommodification, Gifting, Participation, and more. Shabbat, like Burning Man, can be a magical space for reflection, community, and spirit.
About the Author
Zvika Krieger is a member of Milk+Honey’s Committee of Awesomeness leadership team, serves on the organization’s board, and has co-led the camp’s Shabbat services at Burning Man for the past four years. He is the spiritual leader of Chochmat HaLev, a progressive spiritual community in Berkeley, CA for embodied prayer, heart-centered connections, and mystical experiences. Photos taken by Marlena Sloss.